Texas to execute killer who fears demons will exhume him

By Andrew Buncombe
Tuesday 05 November 2002 01:00

A death row inmate who even the prosecution accepts is severely mentally ill, and who hears voices he believes to be the devil, is be executed tomorrow in President George Bush's home state.

James Colburn's only hope of escaping the Texas death chamber is if the US Supreme Court decides his constitutional rights were breached when he dozed off during his trial because of the heavy dose of anti-psychotic drugs he had been given. Colburn, 42, was detected with the symptoms of what was subsequently diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenia when he was 14. He has tried to kill himself at least 15 times. The prosecution says Colburn is fit to be executed because he can distinguish between right and wrong and understands that he is being punished for stabbing and strangling Peggy Murphy, 55, eight years ago.

Jay Hileman, one of his prosecutors, told the jury at his trial: "Attributing this violence, this horrible cruelty and this long string of crime to paranoid schizophrenia is naive and over-simplistic. He did it because he's mean."

Colburn's lawyers appealed to the United States Supreme Court, which has banned execution of the mentally retarded but did not address the issue of mental illness. There was no word last night on whether the court would consider the case. One of the lawyers, Phil Hilder, said Colburn's heavy medication rendered him incompetent to be tried. "This is the flip side of the sleeping lawyer case," he told The Houston Chronicle. "A defendant has to be able to help in his effective defence. He was induced to sleep by injections of this anti-psychotic drug."

Colburn has said he is not concerned about the execution, expressing belief that "perhaps some goodness will come from this". His sister, Tina Morris, says he is concerned only about what will happen to his body afterwards. "He has told me his biggest fear is to be buried because he thinks the demons will dig him up," she said.

"That's why he doesn't want a name on his headstone, so they won't know where he is."

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